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November 03, 2011 3:45 PM Two very different approaches to jobs

By Steve Benen

On the Senate floor later this afternoon, the Democratic leadership brought forward a sensible jobs bill, which a Republican filibuster promptly killed.

The Dems’ plan deserved better. It was an infrastructure-investment bill — $50 billion in direct spending on transportation projects, $10 billion to get the National Infrastructure Bank up and running — which according to U.S. Department of Transportation estimates, would have created roughly 800,000 jobs. It was fully paid for — not a penny would have been added to the deficit — with a 0.7% surtax on millionaires and billionaires, representing just 0.2% of the population. Polls show broad, bipartisan support for the proposal.

But it didn’t matter. A 51-member majority backed the bill today, but that wasn’t enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. Note, GOP members not only blocked the bill, but also blocked the motion to proceed, preventing a debate on the bill. [Update: how many Republicans voted to kill this popular jobs bill? All of them. See below.]

Today, however, offers a bit of a twist. Instead of just killing popular and worthwhile jobs legislation, Senate Republicans will also get a vote on their alternative jobs package, intended to show that GOP leaders have something constructive to offer when it comes to job creation.

They apparently haven’t read their proposal if they think this is constructive.

The GOP’s legislation, in addition to providing some highway funding, would cut $40 billion in discretionary spending and implement a cockamamie House Republican proposal known as the REINS Act. As ThinkProgress Justice editor Ian Millhiser wrote, the REINS Act would cripple the government’s ability to regulate just about anything.

To call this a jobs bill is an insult to the language. Gutting the EPA is not a serious proposal to lower the unemployment rate.

The contrast between the two parties’ approaches couldn’t be more obvious. Dems offered a real policy, including provisions that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, and which polls show the American mainstream backing enthusiastically. Republicans offered a joke.

One party seems to take the jobs crisis seriously, and any media report that says otherwise — be on the lookout for pieces saying the Senate defeated “two jobs bills” today, as if they were roughly equivalent — is misleading the public.

* Here’s the roll call on the Dems’ jobs bill. 47 Republicans, one independent (Lieberman), and one Democrat (Ben Nelson) voted to block the legislation, while 50 Democrats, one independent (Sanders), and no Republicans voted for it.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • T2 on November 03, 2011 3:54 PM:

    I'd be more apt to suspect a Media headline "Dems kill Job Bill".

  • Bob M on November 03, 2011 3:58 PM:

    Republican mob rule tactics. Occupy Wall Street camps out in a park and still shows them up in terms of procedures and fairness. Unbelievable.

  • ElegantFowl on November 03, 2011 4:00 PM:

    Why aren't any of these bills subject to reconciliation rules? The 2003 Stimulus Bill passed with 51 votes (Cheney tie-breaker) due to reconciliation rules.

  • SecularAnimist on November 03, 2011 4:01 PM:

    Steve Benen wrote: "Republicans offered a joke ... and any media report that says otherwise ... is misleading the public."

    No.

    Republicans offered a LIE.

    When even "sensible liberal" bloggers find the courage to clearly, aggressively and unambiguously state that the Republicans are LYING instead of simpering that the Republicans are "joking" or are "intellectually unserious" and other such impotent claptrap, maybe we can start talking about how the "media" is "misleading the public".

  • RT on November 03, 2011 4:06 PM:

    "Why aren't any of these bills subject to reconciliation rules?"

    Don't you need to have a House bill to reconcile with?

    [Captcha: "stionu jejunum"!]

  • June on November 03, 2011 4:08 PM:

    Amazing that these GOP f*ckers still walk around wearing U.S. flag lapel pins (excuse my French).

  • RP on November 03, 2011 4:15 PM:

    If we could just get Lady gaga to tweet about this stuff. Otherwise, Americans will never learn about how Republicans are actively sabotaging the economy.

    As it stands, there's a good chance Americans will hand over all of DC to Republicans in 2012.

    We'll deserve what we get.

  • Mitch on November 03, 2011 4:28 PM:

    @SecularAnimist

    Amen.

    I admire Steve's work, but the mild sarcasm and feigned confusion is ridiculous.

    Do Republicans and their allies pull any punches when discussing Dems? No. They call us traitors and socialists(on a good day). They accuse us openly of trying to destroy the country.

    It is one thing for Obama to be overly polite out of respect for his position (although Dubya didn't mind calling us Un-American, so maybe being President is not an excuse) ... But it is stupid, pointless and weak for bloggers and liberal journalists to hamstring themselves by always wearing kid gloves.

    As Occupy Wall Street is showing us every day, often you have to generate controversy to make a difference. If you are too afraid to be controversial, then you are doing no good. And politeness is a severe weakness when your opponent ALWAYS fights dirty, akin to bringing a Nerf Bat to a gun fight.

    Guess what? Many Americans - especially those who tend to lean right - do not appreciate sarcasm or snarky attitudes. They view those traits as pretentious, even if they are too uneducated to ever use that word. Also many people do not understand subtle messages. That's why the Repug politicians tend to speak like barely educated middle school children.

  • square1 on November 03, 2011 4:31 PM:

    I will give the Democrats credit where it is due. Portions of their proposed bill were excellent: The $50B in direct infrastructure spending and the millionaire tax (although .7% isn't exactly a soaking.

    However, the Infrastructure Bank is a complete fraud on taxpayers. This is nothing but a handout to Wall Street and massive individual and institutional investors. (Also, if you thought that the Solyndra "scandal" was bogus, prepare for a deluge of GOP investigations into projects financed by an Investment Bank. You heard it here first.)

    I don't think that Steve Benen deliberately intends to deceive his readers. But it is fair to say that he doesn't understand what the purpose of the Infrastructure Bank is, what problems it was designed to solve, and who will benefit from its creation. Hint: It has nothing to do with job creation.

    I will not be surprised in the least if we end up with some bullshit "compromise" where Democrats agree to the tax-evasion-facilitating withholding change for contractors and Republicans agree to the Infrastructure Bank and there is a bipartisan agreement to help Wall Street, the investment community and tax cheats.

  • T2 on November 03, 2011 4:32 PM:

    here it is, just in from MSNBC's First Read column:

    "The Senate on Thursday blocked another portion of President Obama’s jobs plan, a $60 billion bill to fund infrastructure projects around the country."

  • Gov't Mule on November 03, 2011 4:35 PM:

    Another day, another way to sabotage the economy.

  • Tuffy on November 03, 2011 4:46 PM:

    Lieberman is determined to be a pitiful, vindictive little man until his extremely long career in public service mercifully ends next year.

  • June on November 03, 2011 4:52 PM:

    @square1, quote: "However, the Infrastructure Bank is a complete fraud on taxpayers. This is nothing but a handout to Wall Street and massive individual and institutional investors. "

    It would be nice if you would just once in a while post some facts or even a persuasive argument to back up your frequent pronouncements instead of just figuring we should take your word as gospel on any given subject.

  • TCinLA on November 03, 2011 4:52 PM:

    Calling Ben Nelson a "Democrat" is like calling Hitler a "conservative."

  • Zach W. on November 03, 2011 4:54 PM:

    Sen. Nelson, please just give up the charade and start putting an "R" next to your name. I hope he looses next year, because he is essentially worthless to the Democratic caucus.

    Here is why Nelson's strategy is so mind-numbingly stupid. First, when given the choice between "real" Republicans and Republican-lite, Republicans always choose the "real" ones. His "centrism" is meaningless electorally. Second, if heis really are a Democrat, then why does he actively harm his party at every turn. By voting no, effective cover has been given the McConnell, who can shout from the rooftops that blocking the bill was BI-PARTISAN!

    I can't figure out if he is gearing up to switch parties and is proving his loyalty to Mitch, if he truely believes in the principle of not taxing anyone, or if he is just a corporate stooge who doesn't give a crap about middle class Americans. I lean toward option 3 with a dash of option 1.

  • jeri on November 03, 2011 5:10 PM:

    Zach:

    I lean entirely toward option 3. Nelson would use option 1 only if it helped him achieve option 3.

  • SYSPROG on November 03, 2011 5:16 PM:

    Can we go back to the question of ARE REPUBLICANS TRYING TO SABOTAGE THE ECONOMY??? LYING mofo's...

  • sherifffruitfly on November 03, 2011 5:18 PM:

    republicans know PERFECTLY well that "progressives" will do nothing but blame Obama, anyway. So since "progressives" work to provide cover for republican bad behavior, republicans are 100% incentivized to continue their bad behavior.

  • Trollop on November 03, 2011 5:34 PM:

    ^^Huh, What? I do not (as a progressive) blame Obama for a failed Senate vote based on philanderi.. I mean filibuster(ing) by Senate Republicans (that includes Useless and LieberRat). If your comment was snarky somehow, I missed it. Maybe I'm not progressive enough..

  • square1 on November 03, 2011 6:00 PM:

    Sure, June. Let me elaborate.

    The plans for an infrastructure bank still remain relatively vague. Nevertheless, the stated purposes of such a bank would be to (1) select infrastructure projects for completion and (2) finance the completion of the selected infrastructure projects.

    Since these are things which our government is currently capable of accomplishing, we must question how, if at all, the infrastructure bank model would accomplish these goals either cheaper and/or better than under the existing system.

    For the moment, I will ignore the selection process other than to say that it isn't at all obvious that the infrastructure bank model would result in projects being selected efficiently and with adequate oversight. While our current system is certainly corrupt, this would institutionalize lobbyists and their principals as the decision-makers.

    More importantly, the funding aspect serves no obvious purpose. Currently, there are two ways that the federal government can finance infrastructure projects: taxation or deficit financing through the sale of treasury bonds. (A third option, to simply print money, is sufficiently impractical to be ignored for now.)

    Since the government has effectively unlimited powers to tax or borrow, what need does the government have to enter into a "public-private partnership" for financing infrastructure?

    Is this bank going to reduce administrative overhead? No, a new entity will be created that requires administration and funding.

    Is the bank going to raise money more cheaply than the Treasury Department will directly? No, any bonds issued by the bank would be at higher interest rates than treasury bonds. However, like Fannie and Freddie, there would be an implicit (and likely partially explicit) guarantee by the federal government to guarantee payment.

    IOW, taxpayers would pay higher interest rates on financing infrastructure projects, get less oversight over the projects, and still be required to make the bond-holders whole in the event of a possible default. Sounds like a Great fucking deal.

    So, what is the real reason for the infrastructure bank, since it obviously isnt to create jobs or finance infrastructure more efficiently?

    It is quite simple. World-wide, massive institutional investors need somewhere to park their massive wealth. When you have hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars to invest, you can't run around buying small-cap stocks or buying individual plots of land, pieces of art, or racehorses. You need to invest big. (Incidentally, this is an economic argument against massive accumulations of wealth; such accumulations are not well and efficiently allocated to wise investments.)

    For a period of time, the securitization of real property mortgages served this purpose. Large investors who couldn't possibly buy up individual mortgages were able to invest, in bulk, in various MBS. It was in order to meet this demand for such securities that created the mortgage housing bubble.

    Now that the housing bubble popped, large investors need to find a new place to stash their cash that pays better than treasury bonds. Apparently the investors hope to find it in municipal infrastructure. Ordinarily, massive investors can't possibly be bothered to run around buying up bonds from every podunk municipality. But if they can be bundled -- ta da! -- suddenly we'll have an infrastructure bubble! And the banks naturally plan to make a healthy cut on the fees.

    So that is why we have proposals for an infrastructure bank. Not to create jobs, but to attract investment from massive investors, including Sovereign Wealth Funds that control trillions of dollars.

  • Trollop on November 03, 2011 6:00 PM:

    I'm all for Dominos or Pizza Hut offering a job to "Herb" Cain to that I don't have to know who he is any more.

  • June on November 03, 2011 6:24 PM:

    @square1, I give you an "A" for effort, but you ask questions, and then settle for answering them from your own particular point of view that says, "no way, this can't be good."

    I'd like to post the WH white paper on the infrastructure bank that does answers questions you posit can't be answered so that people can have a look at the facts, and since one can't post more than one link at a time on Benen's blog, I suggest readers go to WH.gov and search "infrastructure" to see for themselves the steps this administration has already taken to work around Congress on implementing infrastructure initiatives with the purpose of creating jobs. It will be difficult to come away from that with only a cynical point of view.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/091204-PERAB-Infrastructure-Memo.pdf

  • jon on November 03, 2011 6:39 PM:

    As soon as the EPA is banished, I'm starting a business where I dump toxins on the homes of Republican Congressmen.

  • exlibra on November 03, 2011 7:21 PM:

    [...] one Democrat (Ben Nelson) voted to block the legislation [...]

    Worth every penny of that $800 000 that DNC spent -- in just this cycle -- on propping him up, eh?

  • square1 on November 03, 2011 7:34 PM:

    @June: The burden isn't on me to prove that the Infrastructure Bank concept is flawed. The burden is on those proposing it to justify it to the rest of us.

    Over the past several years, as support for an Infrastructure Bank has gathered strength, I have seen multiple proposals. Some similar to the plan in the white paper that you cite. Some significantly different. So let's not start taking the white paper as gospel for how the bank would be created.

    But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that the bank was constructed exactly as proposed in the white paper. There still isn't any evidence that it would serve any point for taxpayers and citizens.

    The white paper is filled with conclusory statements like:

    "Existing federal infrastructure programs are not well-suited to funding regional or cross-state projects of national significance"

    Really? Why? No explanation is provided for why this is true or how a bank model would solve this problem.

    "Infrastructure projects are typically long-lived public goods with significant positive externalities, but current federal programs and project selection processes sometimes overlook the effects of infrastructure decisions on broader policy goals. The NIB would consider related policy goals in its assessment and selection of projects"

    No evidence is provided for why a bank model would be better suited to addressing "broader policy goals." Indeed, it would appear that the bank would be at risk of making decisions in the narrow interests of the statkeholder-decision-makers chosen to approve projects, not the general welfare.

    "The NIB would choose projects based on transparent and fact-based selection processes"

    Again, no evidence is provided for why a bank model would be more transparent or more fact-based

    I could go on and on and on. The white paper is heavy on meaningless financial jargon and completely devoid of any explanation of WHY the bank is actually required.

    If proponents of the bank want to convince me to support it then they can start by outlining realistic hypotheticals: Give me an example of a project that the bank would fund. Explain why a worthy would be easier to get it approved under the bank model. Compare the expected cost of the project under the traditional model versus the bank model. Examine what happens under various scenarios: i.e. have we, yet again, privatized the profits and socialized the costs?

    Until then it just looks like a device for generating financial services fees and, oh yeah, lowering labor standards: " Some members of the Board insist that all projects supported in any manner by the NIB should be
    subject to the Davis-Bacon Act in the construction phase, and subject to responsible employment standards and contracting procedures in the operations phase. Other members feel that such a requirement would prohibit developers from undertaking important projects and recommend omitting the requirement from the NIB guidelines"

  • Doug on November 03, 2011 7:57 PM:

    My understanding of the Infrastructure Bank is that it would tap private funds for state/s to use on projects while the Federal government would act as guarantor; viz, states could access private funds for THEIR infrastructure needs, while using the Federal government's "credit rating" when figuring out the financing. At present, even after the Republican/Teabaggers got our credit rating lowered, the Federal government can borrow money more cheaply than the states can.
    In other words, while it wouldn't be as cheap as receiving block grants from the Federal government for projects, it would still be cheaper than having the states dicker with private financial firms over bond issues. When one is dealing with millions or billions of dollars, a fraction of a percentage point can save vast sums of public monies.
    Which is ONE of the reasons Republican/Teabaggers don't like it...

  • June on November 03, 2011 8:18 PM:

    @square1 - I knew you would point to that last sentence -- which members would you guess would want that? No doubt, predictably, it would be the Republican members. They lost that fight on the trade agreements, too, which contain provisions that countries must comply with international labor best practices.

    As mentioned, that white paper was a start. Where's the evidence that this process would be more transparent? In programs already administrated by this administration, EXHIBIT A, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Critics also warned that it would be rife with corruption - didn't turn out that way. (One can Google that).

    Five key facts on infrastructure bank program:
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/11/03/five-facts-about-national-infrastructure-bank

    Oct 11, 2011
    Go to whitehouse.gov and search:
    Obama Administration Announces Selection of 14 Infrastructure Projects to be Expedited Through Permitting and Environmental Review Process

    These are examples of the kind of infrastructure projects that would be tapped.

    All one actually has to do is search "infrastructure" in at whitehouse.gov to find answers to most of the points you raise. In any case, it doesn't come close to your original pronouncement of it being a "total fraud" on taxpayers.

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